Susie is a vegetarian. She was my boss when I interned with the Outreach team at Grace. She wouldn’t touch meat, of course, but she would eat fish, so I used to give her such a hard time. I would shake my head, joke about fish having souls too, and then start creating back stories.
“Please, Susie! Don’t eat me… I have 3500 children to feed!”
At home, she fed her kids very healthy food. She was very strict. And I really respected her dedication to that. But one day she came into the office and told us a story that I’ll never forget.
Her son had been at a friends’ house for a sleepover. When he got home, she asked him how it went, and he couldn’t conceal his excitement. He said,
“Mom, I had the most amazing thing for breakfast. Have you ever heard of bacon???”
He had had bacon for the first time and it blew his mind.
It’s part of growing up. As we leave the close confines of our family and enter into the broader world, we discover what’s really normal. Not just what we grew up with, but how the rest of the world actually works.
I had a mind-blowing experience like this, too. But it happened at a far deeper level than discovering the wonder of fried pork belly.
When I was a kid, I used to be amazed at the stuff people did in the Bible.
Daniel, cool and collected as he gets tossed into a lion’s den…
The disciples, throwing away perfectly good careers to live as homeless wanderers with Jesus…
Peter and John, walking straight up and just healing a crippled beggar…
All good stuff, but nobody does that outside the Bible. If they did, we’d call them weirdoes.
But then in high school and college, I got really into history and read more stories like this.
Roman Christians giving up their lives to care for plague victims…
18th century missionaries, packing all their belongings in coffins, because they knew they’d die on the mission field…
Dietrich Bonheoffer, standing up to the Nazis and being martyred for his faith…
Ok, so it happens in the Bible and it happens in history books, but nobody does that stuff today. If they did, we’d call them weirdoes.
But then after college, I began to travel.
· I met Pastor Fred in Kenya, who threw away a job, money, and even the health of his family to lead a tiny church in the slums.
· I met Oksana in Ukraine, who gave up time, money and holidays to care for wild, filthy, special needs boys at a remote orphanage.
· I met Deshpande in India, who sacrificed 90% of his already tiny paycheck to build a school for outcaste gypsy children.
Ok, so it happens in the Bible. It happens in history books. And it happens today. But nobody does that stuff in America, or at least, not in the suburbs, or at least, not in my community. If they did, we’d call them weirdoes. I mean, they are weirdoes, right?
I think you can see where I’m going with this. The question hit me like a ton of bricks. What if these people – these weird, odd, extreme people doing crazy things in their pursuit of Jesus – what if they were the normal ones?
What if I was the weirdo? Me. Barry. A decent, church-going guy who read his Bible a couple of times a week, tithed part of my income, and tried not to sin too much – what if I was the weird one for thinking that these things made me a strong Christ-follower?
What if I had been living my life thinking a bowl of plain oatmeal tasted amazing, when I could have been eating bacon?
Or, like in the video we just watched, what if I was a spiritual zombie? Appearing to be alive: walking around, making noises, eating stuff… but, in all the ways that truly matter, dead as a doornail… What if we were an entire community of spiritual zombies… and we had no idea?
I had discovered that my understanding of “normal” was totally wrong. These compelled, sacrificial Christ followers were the normal ones and I was the weirdo on the margins. In their lives, God was moving mountain after mountain. I was stuck in the foothills.
It was time for me to redefine normal.
Ok, so what is normal? If all of those remarkable Christ followers around the world and throughout history are living normal kingdom lifestyles, if God is moving mountains for them, then what are we doing wrong? And what do we do to change that?
Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
So far in this series, Mountains Will Move, we’ve talked about what it will take for God to move mountains. Everything from the mountains in our personal lives like illness or a broken relationship to giant mountains – thinks like global hunger. We learned that God will move mountains when:
· We have faith
· We repent
· We walk in the Spirit
· We pray
Today, we’re going to talk about the final component. The last thing it will take for God to move mountains. That thing? Action.
BIG IDEA: God will move mountains when we act.
I’d like to set up this idea of the importance of action. Grab your Bibles and turn with me to James 2:14
While you’re turning there, let me give you a little background.
This book, one of the earliest books written in the New Testament, was probably penned around A.D. 50. James, the half-brother of Jesus who went on to become the leader of the church in Jerusalem, was writing to the newly scattered Messianic Jewish communities around the Greco-Roman world.
This new Christian faith was in its infancy. Everyone was still trying to figure out what it even meant to follow Christ. What it meant for Jews to worship alongside gentiles. What it meant to be a citizen of the kingdom of God. Reports from all over had been streaming back to James about what had been happening in this baby church, and this letter is a response to what he’d been hearing.
In this passage, James goes off on something that is totally unacceptable to him: the fact that there were rich Christ-followers worshiping next to poor ones, but doing nothing about their physical needs.
Look at verse 2:14.
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
James is not pulling any punches here. If you’ll allow me to paraphrase, it’s like he’s saying:
You all claim to have faith. Yet people in your own community are hungry. The poor among you don’t even have clothes on their backs. How can you possibly separate faith and actions? If you really believed the words of Jesus, you’d be doing everything in your power to feed and clothe those less fortunate among you.
All you have right now is a weak, pale, bloated, dead faith. You are spiritual zombies. The church of the living dead.
James 2:26: “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
James was setting the record straight. If we are going to get this thing off the ground, if we’re going to grow the kingdom of God, if we’re going to change the world, then our faith must be reflected in our actions.
And even though that concept was directed to the early church, I believe it can still be applied today.
Take a quick look at what the American church has become:
· We claim to follow a God of justice and mercy, yet we twiddle our thumbs while 1 in 3 humans alive today live in extreme poverty.
· We claim to believe that Jesus is the key to eternal life, yet we put more energy into telling our friends about the newest diet fad than into sharing the gospel.
· We claim to believe God can heal, yet the best we can manage when our friend is in the hospital is a text saying, “Get well soon!”
Sure. We have faith. We believe in God. We’re… Christians.
But if that faith is just some mental checklist of beliefs, something to slap on a bumper sticker and list in the ‘about me’ section of our Facebook profiles, if that faith does not move us to action, then it is dead faith. It’s zombie faith. It’s pointless faith.
I once heard someone say, “I want to live a life that only makes sense because I’m a follower of Christ.”
Think about that. Is that true of your life? Do your actions and choices make sense only because you follow Christ? Or could you take Jesus out of the picture and go on living pretty much the same?
· If you removed Jesus from your life, would your co-workers notice a difference?
· If you stopped following Christ, would your classmates see a change?
· If Jesus were to vanish from your life, would it affect your family at all?
Because if it wouldn’t change the way you live if Jesus disappeared, then maybe your faith is dead.
The problem with dead faith is not just the presence of death. It’s the absence of life. If we are content to live as spiritual zombies, then we miss out on all that a living, vibrant faith has to offer. We miss out on significance. We miss out on purpose. We miss out on God’s mission.
The fact is, God has some fantastic, wild, epic, remarkable things in mind for us, and we miss out on all of that when our faith is nothing more than words.
And I don’t know about you, but I want some of that. Now that I know there’s bacon out there, I don’t want to go back to bran flakes!
Ok. That answers the question of why we need to act. But how? What does action really look like? And what does that have to do with moving mountains?
MOSES AND THE BURNING BUSH
Well, turn with me all the way back to the Old Testament and see if we can find an answer. Exodus, Chapter 3. The story of Moses and the burning bush.
Some quick background (sorry if you’ve heard this a million times). Moses was an Israelite in a time when his people were slaves in Egypt. Because he murdered an Egyptian slave master, he’s spent the last 40 years as a shepherd out in the boonies.
When we pick up the story in chapter 3:7, Moses has approached a burning bush, which is actually the presence of God, and he is about to hear God’s plan to save his people.
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.
So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
The Israelites faced a mountain. A big one. They were slaves in a foreign country and they had zero power to do anything about it. If there are any immovable mountains out there, that has got to be one of them.
But then God hears their cries. He decides to act. He decides to come down and move that mountain.
How is he going to do it? Well keep reading… Verse 9. God says to Moses…
And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Did you catch that? “So now, go.” God is moving into the world. He’s going to rescue his people. And his plan? To send a backwoods, goat-grazing murderer with a speech impediment…
Obviously, Moses was shocked by this. Verse 11. Look at his response.
“Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
That’s a good question, but God doesn’t even really answer it. His response, in verse 12, is just this:
“I will be with you.”
Moses was one of the first people to learn a truth that would be lived out again and again throughout scripture, and then again and again throughout history. That truth is this: we, the people of God, the church, we are God’s plan A for the restoration of this world. And there is no plan B.
This is the reason our faith must produce action. This is the reason being spiritual zombies isn’t going to cut it. We are the ones to expand God’s rule and reign in the world… We are the ones to build God’s kingdom. And there is no one else. So now go.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
What kind of works is Paul referring to there? Helping old ladies cross the street? Recycling soda cans? A few random acts of kindness to fill the time while we wait to die and go to heaven?
No. These works are the implementation of God's reign here on earth. Caring for the poor. Spreading the gospel. Healing the sick. Seeking justice. These works are the reason we are here. God wants to change the world, he wants to move mountains, and we are his instruments to do it...
BIG IDEA: God will move mountains when we act.
Imagine with me for a moment that we are standing at our own burning bush today. And like Moses, God tells us his plan. He might say something like this:
“I have seen the suffering of hungry widows. I have heard the cries of disabled children. I have seen those who are sick with loneliness and I have seen those who are lonely in their sickness. I have listened to the millions crying out for a savior. I have noticed the desperation of trafficked girls. I have heard the groans of those under the thumb of racism, hatred, depression, poverty, disease, addiction, hunger, war, pain, slavery and injustice.
So I have come down to rescue them. I have come to bring hope and healing to this broken world. I have come to bring my kingdom.
SO NOW GO. People of Grace, I’m sending you.
This idea is no less surprising today than it was for Moses 3000 years ago. Who are we to tackle systemic injustice? Who are we to spread the gospel in an unbelieving world? Who are we to heal and free and forgive?
God’s answer is the same today as it was back then. “I will be with you.”
You see, at the end of the day, it didn’t matter who Moses was. It didn’t matter what choices he had made. All that mattered was how he answered when God asked him to step out in faith.
Will you go talk to Pharaoh? Yes.
Will you take the people across the Red Sea? Yes.
Will you lead them into the wilderness? Yes.
Moses began to walk along the Path of Yes. That’s when mountains started to move. The Red Sea parted, water from the rock, manna from heaven… Moses’ job was simply to act, and God took care of the rest.
BIG IDEA: God will move mountains when we act.
This concept, what I call the Path of Yes… I realize it sounds a bit self-helpy (like something you’d find on display at an airport bookstore)… But it is the best explanation I can give for why some people – the apostles, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Fred, Oksana, Deshpande – why they live lives of extraordinary kingdom significance and we? Well, we just don’t.
It’s not that they’re particularly unique. They’re not especially gifted. Moses wasn’t. The only thing that sets them apart is the path they have been walking. The Path of Yes.
They’ve said ‘yes’ to God over and over and over again, and now their lives are remarkable.
But their path is no different than ours. The Path of Yes lies before every single one of us. It’s the path to a living and vibrant faith, and mountains will move when we take it.
But we have to take it.
It starts small. Saying yes to the slightly scary, slightly awkward, slightly weird things the Spirit whispers in our ear…
· Hey, your co-worker seems really down today. Why don’t you go over and ask them how they’re doing?
· Hey, that person at the gym sure seems to be opening up to you. Why don’t you invite them to church?
· Hey, they’re asking for volunteers to serve down at Shepherd. Why not give it a try?
Not quite as risky as being martyred by the Nazis… But you’d be surprised at how often we say no. “What if they think I’m crazy?” “What if they never talk to me again?” “What if I make a fool of myself?”
We turn those small steps of faith into immovable mountains and then wonder why our spiritual lives are so puny. For all we know, that co-worker might be desperately in need of encouragement. That person at the gym might be looking for a church home. There might be an experience down at Shepherd that will change the course of our life.
But we’ll never know until we say yes.
But here’s the cool thing. Every time we take a step of faith, no matter how small, we build a track record of God’s faithfulness. Each time, we see how God took us through the step before. We see that our fears were unfounded, that God knew far more than we did and that being used by God in this way is actually kind of a thrill.
One step of faith after another and before long, saying “yes” to God is simply a part of everyday life. Each step bigger than the one before. Each positive outcome less and less of a surprise.
Keep at it long enough, and we won’t just hope that mountains will move. We’ll start to expect it.
This isn’t just theoretical, though. For me, this is part of my story. I used to be on the Path of No.
10 years ago, the very thought of serving soup down at Wheeler Mission or being immersed in another culture was terrifying. I wasn’t involved, I didn’t take risks, I didn’t act… I played it safe and I liked it that way.[BR2]
But in college, this action-free faith started gnawing at me. I became totally dissatisfied with who I had become. I made the decision to start saying “yes” to God.
It started small. Volunteering with the homeless. Going on a short term mission trip or two. But it escalated very quickly. Quitting college, interning in Kenya, finishing college, starting a non-profit, living in a slum, sleeping in a refugee camp, spending 4 days homeless in New York…
Those first few steps freaked me out, but every time, God brought me through, met my needs, and used me to advance his kingdom. I began to build a track record of God’s faithfulness in my life.
And today? I’m still scared to death when I think about my next steps might be, but my confidence in the power and the provision of God far outweighs my fear. So much so, that next month I’m getting on a plane bound for war-torn South Sudan and my biggest worry is how many pairs of boxers I should pack.
Now, do I always say “yes” to God? No. Of course not. I still have a long way to go. I’m not telling you all this to paint the picture that I’ve got it all figured out. I’m telling you this because if I, a terrified, immature, comfort loving video game addict can end up following God to the far reaches of the globe, imagine where he might take you.
You could become so confident in God’s power that you expect the impossible to happen. You could start looking forward to the mountains in your path because you can’t wait to see what God will do. I mean, who knows?
You (YOU) could rescue child soldiers in the central Africa. You could spark a spiritual revival at IU. You could raid brothels in Calcutta. You could adopt a family of orphans. You could start a non-profit that radically curtails domestic violence. You could heal people.
As absurd as all that sounds, I say it without the slightest hint of exaggeration. Say ‘yes’ to God long enough, and there is no telling where he will take you.
BIG IDEA: God will move mountains when we act.
Now, as a quick aside: I’m positive that in a room this size, there are some people who still don’t buy it. You look at me and they say, “Sure, he’s a single, 29 year old guy. Of course he can talk about action. ‘Walking on the Path of Yes.’ He’s got nothing to lose.”
And you know what? You’re totally right. Which is why I came prepared with examples of others who have chosen to act.
· Isabella – A seven year old who asked friends to come to her birthday party with canned goods to donate to Grace instead of presents
· Bella – A middle-schooler who has influenced her friends and classmates to give over $4000 to help at-risk women in Cambodia
· Lexi – a recent high school graduate who moved to Costa Rica for a year to seek the call of God on her life instead of going to college
· Jeff and Brooke – married 30-somethings who quit their perfectly good jobs to become year-long fellows for World Next Door
· Aaron and Shelli – young parents who moved their three kids and dog to Haiti for a year
· Keith – a father who took his teenage son to Ukraine
· John – a retiree who spends every waking hour serving in ministry (When I asked if I could use his name, John said, “Oh, but Barry. I’m not retired. I’m working harder than I ever have. I just don’t get paid.”)
These are people in just about every stage of life I could think of, and every one of them goes to church here at Grace. And every one of them chose to act.
None of these people were old enough. Or young enough. Or had enough free time or flexibility. None of them were qualified.
And yet… Each one of them chose to take steps along the Path of Yes. The Spirit asked them to step out in faith and they did. And I can tell you one thing. If they continue to walk along the Path of Yes, they will see mountains moved.
And this is my dream for Grace Church. That seeing people do crazy things in their pursuit of Jesus would become normal to us. That meeting radical Spirit-led world-changers would become commonplace. That we would see boring, action-less Christians playing it safe and think, “Huh, what a bunch of weirdoes!”
Why is this my dream? Because:
BIG IDEA: God will move mountains when we act.
So what about you? What is your next step along the Path of Yes? Where do you begin?
Well, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to give you a few ideas. A few practical, concrete suggestions.
· You could sign up for a short term trip.
· You could tutor kids down at Shepherd Community Center.
· You could go out to the prayer team after service and get that sin off your chest.
· You could finally join a Grace small group.
· You could stop being anonymous and introduce yourself at the Connecting Hub.
Or maybe we should get a bit more personal.
· You could call that estranged relative.
· You could visit your sick friend.
· You could invite your co-worker to church.
· You could ask your child for forgiveness.
· You could turn off your phone and spend an hour in silence with God.
Those are just ideas. But for some of you, when you heard one of the items on that list, sirens started going off in your head. The idea jumped straight out at you and you don’t know why. Friends, that is the Holy Spirit… inviting you to take a step of faith. So now go.
I’m serious! So now go! When this service is over, you need to march right out that door and make it happen.
For the rest of you, perhaps you don’t hear the sirens. And that’s ok. Because sometime this week, at work, at home, at school… you will hear a whisper of the Holy Spirit. An invitation to act.
And I encourage you, before you leave this room, to commit in your heart, that when you hear the whisper, you will choose to act.
Because if you do. If you begin this wild journey of faith. If you walk along the Path of Yes and live a life of action, then God will take you to places you never imagined. He’ll give you skills and gifts that you never knew you had.
Your life will become a beacon of hope to those around you and you’ll forget what it meant to be afraid.
And one day, years from now, you will wake up to discover that mountains have moved, the world has changed, and God used YOU to do it.
So now go.
These three people have pictures I’d like to display (uploaded into Planning Center)
Please display picture “College Barry” here